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Associated Press

Moscow's 'craziness' shown in battle for Bakhmut - Zelensky

October 28, 2022

While much of the fighting in the last month has unfolded in southern Ukraine's Kherson region, the battle heating up around Bakhmut demonstrates Russian President Vladimir Putin's desire for visible gains following weeks of clear setbacks in Ukraine.

Taking Bakhmut would rupture Ukraine's supply lines and open a route for Russian forces to press on toward Kramatorsk and Sloviansk, key Ukrainian strongholds in Donetsk province. Pro-Moscow separatists have controlled part of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk province since 2014.

Russia has battered Bakhmut with rockets for more than five months. The ground assault accelerated after its troops forced the Ukrainians to withdraw from Luhansk in July. The line of contact is now on the city's outskirts. Mercenaries from the Wagner Group, a shadowy Russian military company, are reported to be leading the charge.

Russia’s prolonged drive for Bakhmut exposes Moscow’s “craziness,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said in a nightly address to the nation this week.

“Day after day, for months, they have been driving people there to their deaths, concentrating the maximum power of artillery strikes there,” Zelensky said.

According to local authorities, the shelling killed at least three people between Wednesday and Thursday (local time).

Ukraine’s military is firing mortars and heavy artillery to repel the Russian forces who were less than 5 kilometres away by early Thursday, according to the Institute for the Study of War, a think tank in Washington.

Russia needs a victory in Bakhmut given it lost control over large swaths of the northeastern region of Kharkiv to a Ukrainian counteroffensive last month and its deteriorating position in Kherson.

“Russia’s suffering defeats across the board. They need the optics of some kind of an offensive victory to assuage critics at home and to show the Russian public that this war is still going to plan,” said Samuel Ramani, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute.

The Wagner Group has played a prominent role in the war, and human rights organizations have accused its soldiers for hire of committing atrocities. Their deployment around Bakhmut reflects the city's strategic importance to Moscow. However, according to Ramani, it’s unclear if the mercenaries have made many tangible gains.

“We’re seeing a situation where the Wagner Group is quite effective at creating terror amongst the local residents but much less effective at actually capturing and holding territory,” he said. At the very best they’re gaining 1 kilometre a week, he said.

In the city this week, journalists saw burned-out cars, destroyed buildings and people struggling to survive amid a cacophony of constant shelling. Bakhmut has been without electricity or water for a month, and residents worry about heating their homes as temperatures drop.

“We hoped that this [war] would end or that we would have conditions that allow us to live. But since last month, conditions have been terrible," resident Leonid Tarasov said.

Few shops are open people use firewood to cook on the streets.

Bakhmut had a population of about 73,000 people before the war, but approximately 90% have left the city.

Others feel trapped.

“People who left moved to stay with their children or brothers and sisters. They had places to go,” Ilona Ierhilieieva said as she mixed soup on an open fire by the side of the road. “But as for us, we don’t have a place to go. That’s why we are here.”

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